Aid groups offer Lebanon's migrant workers a virus lifeline

Maya Trad, field coordinator at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is pictured at her office in Beirut, Lebanon February 5, 2021. Picture taken February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Imad Creidi

BEIRUT (Reuters) - As Lebanon grapples with surging coronavirus infections and a financial crisis that has crushed its economy, migrant workers often cannot find the care they need if they test positive.

Desperate workers from Africa and Asia are turning to charities and aid organisations.

There are hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Lebanon but rights groups say its labour laws do not provide adequate protection or health cover.

Hospitals are running out of capacity to treat critically ill patients as a result of a spike in infections since the Christmas and New Year holidays. Lebanon has registered 328,016 cases and 3,803 deaths.

"Because of the economic crisis and because of the outbreak of the COVID pandemic as well, there's been a decrease in the quality of life of migrant workers and they find themselves certainly in a more dire situation," said Médecins Sans Frontières field coordinator Maya Trad.

She and her colleagues have set up a helpline that directs callers to mental health, medical or social support.

Migrant workers who test positive can quarantine at a centre in southern Lebanon, or will be sent to public hospitals where MSF makes sure they are given care.

The Siblin Isolation Centre, run in partnership with the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, helps curb transmission of the virus in communities where people cannot isolate, MSF says.

For one migrant worker, the experience left her grateful and touched.

"I felt that I had found my place, their human interaction is great," she said after recovering. "I left in tears. I wanted to stay in that place."

But now she plans to fly home.

"There's nothing left in Lebanon ... and everything is getting worse," she said, asking to remain anonymous.

(Reporting by Imad Creidi; Writing by Yara Abi Nader and Ayat Basma; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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